The Focus On: Religion page’s Conversations With Preachers continues with a sit-down with James Taylor, pastor at Low Gap Missionary Baptist Church. Taylor, the former founder and owner of JET Printing and executive director of Friends of the Big South Fork, is an insurance agent these days, representing Transamerica. He was ordained into the ministry in 1996, at Pine Creek Baptist Church, and was named pastor at Low Gap nearly 14 years ago, in December 2005.
Independent Herald: Tell us about your church and yourself.
James Taylor: Low Gap is over 100 years old, and has a reputation for longevity of pastors. This December will make 14 years that I have been there and we’ve seen a lot of growth in the church. We’ve accomplished things that some of the larger churches just sit in awe of. I remember one year, at the end of of our vacation bible school, when we were having our family night, we had a visitor there from one of our larger churches. He came by and said, “James, how is Low Gap able to accomplish what they accomplish with VBS? With your numbers, the inflatables, the attendance and all that? You’re able to accomplish something a lot of the larger churches aren’t able to accomplish.” I just looked at him and said, “God’s good, isn’t He?”
I believe the number one thing a pastor needs to be is an encourager to the congregation. We live in an area where a lot of people have been told, “You can’t. You’re not able to accomplish that.” I live by the philosophy that everyone is capable of accomplishing whatever is God’s will, if you will do it by God’s guidelines — whether it’s in business or family or church or whatever. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. We need to get our own thoughts and ideas out of the way, because they will sideline us and put us in the ditch, and let’s get to work.
IH: Your father, Charlie Taylor, was a minister. Do you find yourself influenced by his style?
JT: Dad preached all around McCreary County, Scott County and surrounding counties. At the time of his death in 1975, I had so many people at the visitation and at the funeral ask me, “Are you gonna follow in your dad’s footsteps? Are you going to follow where he left off?” I couldn’t fill those shoes. In my mind, there was no way I could follow in my father’s footsteps. It took me years to come to the knowledge and understanding that God didn’t want another Charlie Taylor. He wanted a James Taylor. There are no two ministers in this county, or anywhere in the world, as far as that goes, that are exactly the same. I’m so thankful for that because, man, it would be so boring if we were all exactly the same. It took me years to realize that God made me the way that he wanted me.
What has influenced me the most about my father is the way he cared for the people, and his love for the church. Times are totally different than they were back in 1975. I’m so thankful God hasn’t changed, and I hate to say people have changed. (But) the church is special. The church should be treated with honor and respect. The church isn’t a social club; it’s a place where you can go find peace, where you can find hope, where you can be expected by family that’s not going to judge you.
IH: When did you feel the call to preach? Did you know back in 1975, when you father died? Or was it something you felt in 1996, when you were ordained?
JT: I tell everybody that as a child growing up, I had a drug problem: I was drug to church every time the doors were open. I’m so thankful today for the reruns because I never got to watch Bonanza on Sunday night. I never got to watch the Walt Disney movies on Sunday night. But I realized probably 10 years after my dad passed away that I felt the tug. I didn’t surrender until roughly ’94. I tried to get out of it to the best of my ability and God just made things so rough that I had to surrender. There was no other way.
IH: Explain that — “God made things so rough that there was no other way.”
JT: I just felt like my life was totally falling apart. I’ve always said that God will do whatever it takes to get your attention. Prior to me fully surrendering, I was trying to find peace and happiness in all the things of the world and I just couldn’t find it. I could find every excuse in the world to not go to church on Sunday nights. But I just woke up one day and said, “God, you win. I just cannot continue on with this running episode.”
IH: How did you wind up at Low Gap?
JT: They were without a pastor. I was asked to come in and fill in. I went down and preached a Sunday or two, then went back. It got to the point where it didn’t make any difference where I was at, I saw Low Gap. I woke up in the night or in the morning and I’d see Low Gap. I expressed my concern and my feelings to the church. Fourteen years later, I’m still there.”
IH: What’s the role of the church within this community or any community?
JT: The number one role of the church is to lead people to Christ and let people realize that there are only two places for mankind to spend all of eternity. There’s heaven or hell. I’ve heard so many people make the comment, “How can a loving, caring God send someone to hell?” In all reality, God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. That’s why Jesus came and paid a sin debt that no one else could ever pay. It’s the church’s responsibility to tell people about Christ and warn people of the consequences and, for God’s sake, don’t be judgmental. I run across so many people who think, “My clothes aren’t good enough to go to this church or that church.” It’s not about clothes. It’s all about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
Where a lot of people are missing the boat nowadays is this: Jesus didn’t call anybody. We have no right to pick or choose who we spread the gospel to. It doesn’t matter what status someone may have in life. Status doesn’t impress me. What impresses me is a person’s relationship with God. Can I see Jesus in them without them ever telling me they’re a Christian?
There are so many Christians that use the church and God like a spare tire. When they have a crisis in their life, the church is the first place they come back to. If people would only realize that you get out of church exactly what you put into it — and that’s the way with life in general. I tell the congregation so many times at Low Gap, “Just look around. There’s none of us that can walk on water.” The church is made up by a group of sinners, saved by the grace of God, trying to do the very best we can possibly do. Nobody’s perfect. There’s room for everyone to get closer to God. And that’s totally dependent upon you. But I feel like we all need to be encouraged from time to time. A loving church, a caring church, should welcome anyone. I had a church member ask me a few years ago, at the close of a service, “What would you do if a drunk came to church?” I said, “He can sit up front with me; it’s not crowded up there. That’s right where he needs to be.” I think the church should be open to anyone.
IH: What’s the biggest challenge facing churches today?
JT: I feel like it’s the convenience of transportation. We can jump in a vehicle and be in Knoxville in 60 minutes. We can jump in a vehicle and go to the lake, go to the mountains, go shopping. We can do this, we can do that. I realize we do need to have vacations, we do need to have time to decompress and reevaluate things, but I believe one of the greatest obstacles that we’re facing today is we’re competing with all the things the world has and the convenience of those things. There was a time period when everything centered around the church. There was this time in Scott County. Businesses closed down on Wednesday afternoons. Nothing was open on Sundays. Now we’re living in a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week society. We’ve created a rat race for ourselves and a lot of people don’t know how to enjoy life. They think if I have this or that, it’s going to make me happy. But true happiness can only be found when you’re serving Christ and focusing on the simple things of life.
IH: You sell insurance, work a full-time job, yet you still have a pastor’s responsibilities to tend to. Is it hard being a bivocational pastor?
JT: It’s very challenging. I have my responsibilities with Transamerica. I have my family. I have my granddaughter. And I have the church. At times there isn’t enough of me to go around. Bivocational pastors get pulled in so many different directions, and there are times I have asked myself if I am doing any of them justice. But the flip side of this is, when you have a person or family who tells you, “You’ve really been a help to me,” it makes all the sleepless nights and stress just go away. I’ve done it for so long that I don’t know if I could do it any other way.
IH: On the flip side, are you able to use your job to spread the gospel beyond the pulpit?
JT: Yes, I’m constantly able to invite people to come to church. I’m constantly able to have prayer with people I wouldn’t have otherwise if it wasn’t for my position. I guess in all reality, God has gotten me at this point in my life exactly where he wants me.
IH: What do you tell people about Low Gap when you know they’re searching for a church home?
JT: If you want to attend a church that has a tremendous amount of love, where the people really care for each other, basically a place where everyone is someone and Jesus is Lord, that’s Low Gap. There are no big Is and little yous at Low Gap. We have to realize that, as I said earlier, all of us are just sinners saved by the grace of God and trying to do the very best we can to spread His gospel. We’ve got to make people feel welcome, and the people at Low Gap do that.
Low Gap Missionary Baptist Church has Sunday school at 10 a.m. on Sundays, followed by worship services at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday evening Bible study is at 7 p.m.